Sometimes you run across a recipe and it just sings to you. If you’re nightshade sensitive you have to make sure it’s safe before getting too excited
Sam Sifton’s Vaguely Vietnamese Slow Cooker Pork was instantly alluring to me. I’d rediscovered my slow cooker and was also really enjoying fusion cuisine, mixing and matching ethnic identities and serving traditions. I saw the recipe when it was first published, modified it, made it, then misfiled the modifications in a random stack of culinary marginalia. I set out to find it again when I discovered a shoulder of pork deep in my freezer before the New Year.
The original contains sriracha—a clear no fly zone. Also hoisin sauce, which I didn’t know anything about. A quick bit of googling and I discovered it’s sometimes called Chinese barbecue sauce, so that was a good sign there would be chili peppers.
A Google hunt for recipes revealed about a million different takes on hoisin. Most contain some source of umami, some source of acidity, some source of sweetness, some source of garlic and/or ginger, and some source of heat. There’s not typically a lot of heat, so if you’re inclined to explore beyond my map below, you can shop around and try to find a different hoisin. Regular visitors here know I am not a fan of simply eliminating a nightshade ingredient and assuming you’re going to get the same depth of flavor, so I have of course suggested a slightly different tack, with black garlic and wasabi powder.
The result is wonderfully savory. Serve as a filling in tacos, or build a nice bowl of pho.
Overall it’s a relatively simple adaptation—amplify the ginger, garlic, and pepper, and let the slow heat do the rest.
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced
- 8 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 3 pieces star anise
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 4 tablespoons of ground pepper (mix and match—cubeb and green)
- 1 bone-in pork shoulder, approximately 5 pounds
FAKE HOISIN INGREDIENTS
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon jaggery or palm sugar (brown sugar works too)
- 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
- 1 tablespoon wasabi powder
- 1 teaspoon black garlic powder
1Prepare the pork by trimming skin and excess fat. (Your mileage may vary here. I don’t fear the fat, but there is so much of it in pork shoulder that you won’t notice anything missing if you trim aggressively.) You can slow cook it from a raw starting point, but I like to brown it under the broiler first.
2In a small sauté pan heat the sesame oil on medium-high heat. Cook the onions for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and continue to cook until the onions are soft and becoming translucent. Remove from heat.
3Add the ginger, ground pepper, and the fake hoisin ingredients: soy sauce, smooth peanut butter, jaggery or other sugar, rice wine vinegar, wasabi powder, black pepper, and the additional garlic and sesame seed oil. Whisk to incorporate the peanut butter, then add the fish sauce.
4Spoon a portion into the slow cooker, then fit the pork. Some cutting may be necessary depending on the match between your cooker and your piece of pork.
5Ladle the rest of your onion and hoisin sauce over the top of the pork. Swish about a half a cup of water in the pan to scavenge every last bit of flavor, and carefully pour that rinse into the bottom of the slow cooker so as not to wash the sauce off. Cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 6 to 10 hours.
6If that “6 to 10 hours” seems impossibly vague, remember that the size of your shoulder, the quality of the meat, and the relative strength of your cooker are all variables that aren’t easy to calculate with precision. It’s done when the pork shreds easily with a fork, but longer cooking will help break down the connective tissues, adding further depth of flavor. Moisture content can also vary from cut to cut, and your lid may vary in how much moisture it releases. If after an hour or so of cooking you think you’ll want more broth, add a cup or two of boiling water to your cooker.
7I like the way this kind of meat cooks when you shred the meat as you go after about the four hour mark. Ultimately I serve it from the pot with all of it’s attendant juices. You can also do the shredding at the end. Cook the entire piece whole, removing carefully at the end—use some large forks to help hold the meat together as it really is ready to fall off of the bone. Remove the bones and shred, discarding other tissue according to the tastes of you and your guests. If you wish, you can siphon some of the fat off at this time, too. And once you have a nice platter of pulled pork, return the meat to the slow cooker where it will recombine with the juices.
8 Eat for days in tacos and burritos, with rice, or in pho.